Paying for an Online Education

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Qualify for Federal Aid, Employer Perks, and Free Money

Just because you are enrolling in an online degree program doesn't mean you don't deserve the same financial aid benefits as a student attending a brick-and-mortar school. Students engaged in full-time degree programs may be eligible for federal aid and valuable grants and scholarships, not unlike their traditional counterparts. Non-traditional students ñ a majority of the online student population ñ also may qualify for special financial aid programs, and continuing education students may apply for alternative student loans. Additionally, many employers offer tuition reimbursement plans, a good thing for online degree seekers who are pursuing career and job-related skills to keep in mind.

Online degree programs do have their financial advantages: students are usually only billed for tuition, the actual cost for the academic courses. Textbooks, the only other financial burden, may be purchased as an e-book, which typically cost less than hard copies, or possibly even borrowed through online university library systems.

Tuition Reimbursement Programs May Pay All or Part of Online Tuition

Working professionals often seek online degrees and specialized coursework for career reasons:

  • Job requirements
  • Career changers
  • Promotions and higher salaries
  • Career specializations

In some cases, employers, large or small, may pay all or part of the tuition for an online degree program. Terms differ among employers; some require you pay tuition up front and submit receipts for reimbursement, while others only provide compensation up to a particular dollar amount or for particular types of courses. Reimbursement plans may or may not cover textbooks and other course-related materials, and almost none cover any auxiliary academic fees. Students expecting their employer to reimburse them typically must achieve a certain GPA and complete all courses to receive compensation. In some cases, employees may be required to sign a contract agreeing to remain working for an employer for a specified amount of time once they complete the program.

Financial Aid

Similar federal aid guidelines may apply to online degree seekers as they would to students pursuing traditional degrees. If you are shopping for an online degree, contact a financial aid advisor at the institution in which youíre interested, as criteria may differ. Many advisors simply suggest that students take the initiative to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), regardless.

If you are a healthcare worker looking for an advanced degree, make sure you explore all your options for the various tuition forgiveness programs. Students who willing to work for one or two years after graduation in an underserved area may qualify for student loan waivers or repayment.

Alternative Student Loans

Student loan providers and private banking lenders offer alternative student loans for auxiliary credit-based money, when necessary. Students pursuing continuing education courses that are unassociated with a degree are ineligible for federal aid and sometimes employers fail to reimburse. In these situations, you may qualify for a long-term student loan specifically designed to put college money in your pocket. Alternative student loans, however, come with minimum borrowing limits and require credit checks. Additionally, there are more specialized student loans designed specifically to finance continuing education or technical school programs that you may consider checking out.

Free Money for Online Education

Make sure you fully explore any scholarship and grant options available to you for online study. Colleges and universities with distance learning options likely have a few scholarships set aside exclusively for use by online learners. Online universities with well-established programs often have scholarships, as well. It's important to take some time and research your free money options, but beware of scholarship services that charge money.